Increasing the worldwide production of helium by 25%!
By Bertrand Bacaud, published on June 13th, 2018, modified on July 19th, 2018
As the Technical Manager for non-operated assets in Qatar, I was, among other things, in charge of preparing and carrying the investment decisions processes within Total when Qatargas would request its shareholders’ approvals for major investments. In 2010, at the same time the Plateau Maintenance Project of Qatargas 1 was being launched, Qatargas 2 making itself ready to launch the Helium 2 project (in conjunction with Qatargas 3, Qatargas 4 and RasGas 3). Given the amount to be spent and the participation of Total in Qatargas 2, we had to prepare a dossier to seek approval from the VP Middle East and the President E&P of Total.
I had learned (the hard way) that putting together such a dossier was not just about showing a sketch of the facilities, their cost and the expected revenue. It had to address any question that the management could have: relevance, risks, alternatives, long term, HSE, and so on. But the challenge was that Total did not produce Helium or anything similar, and had no knowledge of this business, either from a technical or commercial perspective.
So I embarked on an extensive investigation on helium recovery and refining technology, the major players, the market size and trends and underlying fundamentals… I learned a lot: helium is a finite resource on Earth (much more finite than fossil fuels!) and with only 3-4 players worldwide, it is a very profitable activity. In the end, the project would be extremely profitable.
When I submitted the dossier to the management, I had so few questions that I answered through SMS! That was my personal reward! I was also proud to be involved in a project that would increase worldwide production by 25%!
But you might wonder what helium has to do with Qatar? Well, there is a very small proportion of helium in the gas of the North Field (0.04%). With such a huge production rate, it ends up being large amounts!